Women in Business Q&A: Nicole Opas, General Manager / Executive Producer - Mobile and Social Games, Zynga

Women in Business Q&A: Nicole Opas, General Manager / Executive Producer - Mobile and Social Games, Zynga
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Nicole Opas/Zynga

Nicole Opas is a games and entertainment industry veteran with 15+ years of experience building and operating games and gaming networks for major companies including Zynga, Disney, AOL and Sony. As the General Manager of Zynga's newest mobile game, FarmVille: Tropic Escape, Opas is responsible for business growth and goals; oversight of live operations; and driving a unifying product vision to create the best player experience and business outcomes through excellence in execution. Opas joined Zynga in 2011 and has worked on several successful mobile and web games for the company including Zynga Poker, CastleVille Legends and Zynga Bingo.

Prior to Zynga, Opas was responsible for developing an online community of youth gamers on Disney.com and led production of branded casual games across The Walt Disney Company including Toy Story 3, Up, Hannah Montana and Tangled. During her tenure at AOL, Opas created and executed promotional programs to attract and retain visitors to AOL's casual gaming site including The Sims Online and the first World Series of Poker multi-player online game.

Opas received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've learned throughout my personal and professional life to not only recognize when opportunities are in front of me, but to have the confidence to take risks in order to pursue them. Now as a leader myself, I've come to realize that there were great people creating many of those opportunities for me, so I try to emulate that leadership model for our team. I believe one of the greatest leadership qualities you can possess is a passion to empower those around you.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Zynga?
Working at AOL, I was inspired by their vision to bring the internet into millions of homes. At Disney, I had the opportunity to create great entertainment and work alongside incredible creative talent. While different, both of those experiences blended together perfectly to prepare me for my tenure at Zynga where we are delivering engaging and truly unique experiences, like FarmVille: Tropic Escape, to millions of people around the world.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Zynga?
At Zynga I've been able to make games that I truly love to play. From Zynga Poker to CastleVille: Legends to FarmVille: Tropic Escape, I'm driven by the opportunity to create immersive entertainment experiences that are a part of my daily life outside of work. The most rewarding aspect of my job is hearing the stories of connection that people have made in our games. Whether it's staying in touch with family overseas or meeting the love of their life, the mobile gaming platform is truly unique in how it's able to so easily, and meaningfully, bring people together.

At the same time, the mobile gaming industry is incredibly dynamic and fast-paced. In just the last six months, there's been tremendous excitement and innovation around mobile games that are pushing the boundaries of technology and social. While it's a highly competitive landscape, the opportunity to innovate and make an impact on people's everyday lives is an opportunity that I'm incredibly excited about.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Put yourself into a mindset that you CAN work in games. If you have a passion to create interactive entertainment, tell stories, give people aspiration and joy, you can absolutely have a career in gaming. I recommend for women who are seeking engineering or design roles, to explore accessible tools to make some games on your own. For artists, one of the best things you can do is to study the variety of art styles in games and understand that the coding side of game making is actually an amazing blend of art and science.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Great people with great chemistry make for the best products and teams. As a leader, the most important things you can do are to establish a supportive and enthusiastic culture, bring smart and driven people into it and work together in setting a vision to achieve.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I set my work and personal goals as equal priority. I had a serious medical emergency about four years ago that really changed my perspective about work/life balance. I realized that my health and personal life require equal focus and energy as work. Since then, I've developed a healthy balance that has made me more productive at work and happier in my life.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Having good female role models and mentors to look to for inspiration and guidance. One way that I think we can address this is to ensure that both women and men are advocating for visible female leadership at all levels in an organization.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been enormously impactful on my professional and personal life. Whether it's someone to bounce ideas off of, a trusted resource for perspective or a person who can help open critical doors along your path, I'm a huge advocate for mentorship.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have a dear friend and mentor, Caren Scoropanos, who is the National Director of Alumni and Cause Marketing at KPMG. I met Caren in my first role in games and she has been a mentor and role model to me ever since. Not only is she a smart and driven woman, she takes on great responsibilities and projects while putting her family and friends first. But what I admire most is that she has a huge heart for the people she works with, especially those who work for her. She taught me the most important lesson I've learned as a manager, which is to appreciate and foster the unique talents and capabilities of the people around you.

What do you want Zynga to accomplish in the next year?
At Zynga we are focused on building a world class studio and innovative creative culture which is informing everything we do, from the way we design and staff our teams to creating the best gaming moments possible for our players.

As mobile continues to grow, we're seeing more and more the impact of female mobile gamers on the broader gaming industry. Taking into account this growing player demographic, every element of FarmVille: Tropic Escape was designed with players in mind, including our very own team which features women in every studio role, from producer to engineer to designer. The diverse team composition reflects our thoughtful approach to putting our players first as we create new game experiences. I'm excited to see how this approach will translate into the experiences Zynga is delivering our players over the coming year.

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